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DWP MUST BE READY FOR NEXT HEAT WAVE.

Byline: RICHARD NEMEC Local View

THERE'S a half-block of prime West Los Angeles commercial real estate surrounded by a corset of chain-link fencing and the green tarp -- a common sight at property being redeveloped. But on this plot, a half-block east of Sepulveda Boulevard, the fencing has been up for more than two years.

The owner of the land, by way of eminent domain, is the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. Given the city utility's spotty track record during the recent heat wave, and the idle commercial property becomes a metaphor for bigger, deeper concerns at the DWP.

While DWP officials could not prevent the 1-in-50-years heat from overwhelming the local electricity infrastructure, the utility continues to be sluggish in many areas. The idle property on Sepulveda on which once sat profitable dry-cleaning and pet-supply businesses, like its owner, can't seem to get on track these days.

The site was designated for a new distributing station six years ago, which L.A. needs desperately to accommodate the ever-growing demand for electricity. We all have many more electronic gadgets and computer-driven mechanisms adding to the average power load, and as last month's service outages showed us, the current delivery system isn't up to the task.

The DWP's infrastructure simply couldn't handle the unprecedented high demand. And while the specific problem resided in the transformers on each pole, added distribution stations -- which have been stalled by internal operating hang-ups -- might have made a difference.

In the case of its unused Westside lot, not only has the DWP tied up a piece of property that formerly provided steady tax payments to city coffers, but its slow pace compounded its lack of preparedness for July's extreme heat.

Normally, it should take 18 months to build a distributing station. I have called the DWP's engineer in charge of building distributing stations on several occasions over the past 18 months, only to be given new target dates that have come and passed as he tells me two other similar stations are being built. It turns out there have been continued redesigns of the Westside station based on other new stations whose designs have proven flawed.

The utility wanted to meet more stringent reliability criteria, so another design was needed. Another requirement requested by the surrounding homeowners was to keep the facility enclosed, except for the transformers. The redesign meant an entirely new approach to the roof.

Those tens of thousands of DWP customers who baked without air conditioning and fumbled in the dark waiting for the utility to restore their power last month have no idea about distributing stations, or where they are supposed to be located.

They are unaware that by the first week in August, the utility had upgraded or replaced all 302 transformers that failed (out of 127,060), and have identified 300 additional weak links to be fixed or replaced by Labor Day.

When the DWP finally gets all those stalled distributing stations into service remains to be seen. Only then, should a sustained streak of hot weather hit us again, we might just have a fighting chance to minimize outages in the midst of the heat.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 18, 2006
Words:526
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